It's been too long: Gamecocks return to NCAA Tournament

It's been too long: Gamecocks return to NCAA Tournament

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**

It's been the goal since practice started in August. Heck, it's been the goal since last season ended in April. After two years of watching the NCAA Tournament from home, the South Carolina men's tennis team will be part of the action starting on Friday.

"Our team is feeling great mentally and physically," senior Andrew Schafer said on Tuesday. "We've had a great week of practice and had a great end to the regular season. We're looking forward to the tournament."

South Carolina heads to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and will face East Tennessee State in the first round on Friday, a team that rolls into the postseason with wins in 14 of its last 15 matches. 

"I think they're playing with a chip on their soldier," Goffi said of ETSU. "They're coming in hungry to beat us. We're not looking past them whatsoever. That's a tough team."

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No. 9 national seed North Carolina is the host of the regional, and coincidentally, that's the location of the Gamecocks' last appearance in the postseason two years ago. The Gamecocks won their first round matchup that year, but fell to the Tar Heels in the second round.

They want to change that this season, and Goffi has a lot of confidence in his team. Earlier this season South Carolina played at the ITA Carolina Regional where North Carolina was a participant, and Goffi said his team was one of the most impressive groups there.

"I don't think our guys are scared one bit of UNC, so if there was a host spot we could go to, (UNC) was probably one of our top three choices and we got it," Goffi said. "I think the guys are very hungry to get in there and get to work." 

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Tuesday's practice was the best the Gamecocks had performed since the end of the regular season, which is a great sign heading into the NCAA Tournament.

"Guys are firing on all cylinders, and I think they're hungry," Goffi said. "They had a team meeting (Monday night) and kind of reorganized themselves and the goals we have going into Chapel Hill."

The Gamecocks missed the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons after making it the three years prior to that. For whatever reason, South Carolina encountered a lot of bad luck over the previous two years because of injuries and illness. 

After returning every player from last year's team that just missed out on a postseason berth, there was a sense of pride when the Gamecocks popped up on the board at this season's NCAA selection show. 

"There was a lot of relief with some of the guys," Goffi said. "We've been a great team, but just had some unfortunate circumstances. This is what we've been playing for all year."

There are three seniors on this year's team, and they've been a big part of the Gamecocks returning to form. They went to the NCAA Tournament during their freshman year, and now they receive the privilege of ending their careers where every college tennis player wants – in the postseason. 

"This team is playing for those seniors," Goffi said.